Harriet Harman writes to Andrew Mitchell about women’s projects in Afghanistan

Harriet Harman, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, has written to Andrew Mitchell to ask him about funding for women’s projects in Afghanistan.

Here are some extracts from the letter:

“I recently had the opportunity to meet with Hussn Banu Ghazanfar, the Afghan Minister for Women…. One of the issues that was raised with me by the Minister, and was raised by women MPs with my political advisor on a recent visit, was the question of UK funds going to support women’s organisations in Afghanistan.

“I think it is important that when deciding which women’s groups, organisations and projects to fund, the government informs and consults the elected women in Afghanistan.  They, after all, are in a good position to have an informed view about where the funds could best be spent.  At the very least they should know which groups, organisations and projects are being funded.

“I would be grateful if you would

  • confirm to me that in future the elected women representatives will be consulted by DFID as part of the consultation process of deciding how to disburse funds to women’s groups, organisations and projects
  • set out to me the full details of all the projects to support women which we are contributing funds to
  • undertake to convey that information to Minister Ghazanfar and the other 68 women MPs in Afghanistan.

“When the British presence in Afghanistan is reduced, we want to be sure that women are stronger because of our actions not undermined and bypassed and thereby weakened.”

Christian Aid calls on Mitchell to do more on climate change

Courtesy of Christian Aid

There is a very interesting piece over on Left Foot Forward on Christian Aid’s new campaign which calls on the World Bank to do more to tackle climate change.

You can lend your voice to Christian Aid’s and email Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, and ask him to use his position within the World Bank to support developing nations in the fight against climate change.

One notable part of the story on Left Foot Forward says:

Step forward, then, Mr Mitchell, who as the UK’s board representative can now have a significant say in how the bank’s financial institutions are run and how the money is spent. (The UK holds 3.75% of the vote, equal to France, while larger voting shares are held by the US, Japan, China and Germany).

Mr Mitchell must seize the chance to press the bank to put its billions into carbon-safe, clean ways of generating energy, such as solar and small-scale hydroelectric, and biomass projects which can deliver clean energy directly to poor people.

For to preserve any credibility as a force for good, the bank must be seen to be in the vanguard of supporting sustainable and renewable energy sources which would help avert climate chaos while meeting the energy needs of poorer communities to help lift them out of poverty.

You can read the full article over on Left Foot Forward. Here at LCID, we have written frequently on climate change as a challenge to developing nations and we welcome Christian Aid’s focus on the agenda.

 

LCID reaction to Report on Labour’s Education record

A Nigerian teacher in training. Photo credit: Chris Morgan, DFIDThe difficulty of being part of a political party is that sometimes you stand accused of being too tribal, too colour-blind, too willing to defend the party line. LCID it is not beyond criticising and critiquing the Labour Party’s own policy and record, but we will defend it passionately when we think it has come under attack unfairly.

Just before Christmas, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee released a report criticising Labour’s record on education spending.

As the report pointed out, DFID has focused on educational programs to improve and expand state primary school networks in 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia most of these have increased school enrolment from 50% or even lower to 70 to 90% and 14 on schedule to meet the UN MDG on education by 2015.

There is of course a major challenge for all those committed to education for all to ensure that the increase in the quantity of children receiving education is matched by an increase in the quality of education that they receive.

But despite huge and rapid increases in school enrolment in several countries supported by DFID, there has been no reduction in the levels of learning achievement – Tanzania is a case in point. That counts as a major achievement given that most new entrants are not only very poor but also often malnourished.

In addition, Labour and the DFID actively supported strategies aimed at strengthening achievement levels in countries such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, and Bangladesh.

The criticisms laid out in this report must not be used as an excuse to reduce the amount of aid our country spends on supporting children to learn. Kids kept out of school by poverty tend not to learn very much.

In terms of the allegations regarding the Kenyan government, we know that the Labour team at the time took pretty tough and rapid action and were very careful with any subsequent budget support to Kenya.

Most importantly, whilst improvements can be made to UK aid, this report must not be used as an excuse to reduce budget sector support. Without national government-run health and education systems, free at the point of use, countries will never get the healthy educated workforce they need to lift themselves out of poverty (and reduce their need for aid).

Our national health service is the envy of the world – UK aid should support countries to develop their own national health services and national education systems. Before the election, we and others including UNESCO warned that Mitchell and the Conservatives favoured private education initiatives including vouchers schemes in their manifesto – let us be clear, the overwhelming evidence across the world is that public health and education services deliver best for poor people – and this report must not be used to try and justify otherwise.

Will long-term poverty reduction fail under the Tories?

There is an article running on the Guardian website analysing the contradiction at the heart of Conservative international development policy. It looks at the emerging schism between traditional Conservative values on aid and the ring-fenced budget; as well as between an increased focus on security and the alleviation of poverty.

LCID has run several articles on worries over the increased militarisation of aid as well as Conservative spending priorities. We will continue to scrutinise the Government’s actions.

It is well worth a read.

Tax Havens, Conservatives and the Developing World

After the recent investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches programme that Conservative Ministers, Andrew Mitchell the International Development Secretary amongst them, store their wealth in off-shore bank accounts, the question of the harm done by these locations and their practices are now being asked.

The figure quoted in the Dispatches investigation is that for every £1 that goes into the developing world via aid and trade, £10 goes into off-shore tax havens. That is a staggering amount of money that is being re-directed away from where it could of use to world’s poorest. There has been a growing acceptance in the international community that more needs to be done to ensure that fair and accountable tax regimes become common practice. The G20 meeting in April 2009 set a clear set of targets to see these practices clamped down on, due in part to the damage they do to the developing world, stating that they aimed ‘to make it easier for developing countries to secure the benefits of a new cooperative tax environment.’

The OECD in late 2009 looked into the progress being made to achieve the aims set out by the G20 and found that 42 signatories had yet to implement the internationally agreed recommendations – one of these being the favoured tax haven of the now International Development Secretary, the British Virgin Islands (a British Overseas Territory).

Closer to home the House of Commons International Development Select Committee has stated that tax havens are a severe hindrance to the developing world. In its report in October 2009 ‘Aid under Pressure’ it had the following to say on tax havens;

“114. Tax evasion is a major problem faced by developing countries in attempting to raise tax revenue. Tax havens facilitate tax evasion by operating lax regulations; providing companies with anonymity through bank secrecy; and by failing to co-operate on tax matters with authorities from the country in which the funds originated.”

Given that the G20, the House of Commons and the OECD all agree that tax havens damage the developing world, its increasingly curious that the Development Secretary feels it is acceptable to benefit from using their services.

Furthermore, the question of fair taxation is not only a problem within developing nations, its also a problem within aid-giving states. If the money that wealthy UK citizens and companies stored overseas were repatriated to the UK not only would our GDP increase (and the amount of money that constitutes the target of 0.7% of GDP going into development would substantially increase) we would also have more taxable income that could be re-directed into DfID’s budget.

It is very simple economics, but economics that substantially harms the developing world. That the international community has already stated its clear aim of dealing with the problem of off-shore tax havens, it is therefore concerning that members of the UK government are indulging in these practices, particularly those whose remits are to tackle the very problems that tax havens are exacerbating.

The Secretary of State has said he has done nothing illegal, and that is true. But that does not exonerate him from the charge that he, and by extension his government, are unwilling or incapable of tackling the practices that are in part responsible for underdevelopment in many parts of the world. In fact, they are taking part in and enjoying the benefits of those practices. Whilst leaders in the developed world fail to understand why underdevelopment takes place, and whilst they are unwilling to seriously deal with these problems and lead by example, the depravity that those in the developing world face will continue to worsen.

Lee Butcher is a Parliamentary Researcher to a Labour MP – views expressed are done so in a personal capacity.

Mitchell in bother

The Guardian has an article on its website about Andrew Mitchell stepping in to help have a trading ban lifted in Ghana, despite it being outside his remit. The firm had been banned from trading for allegedly smuggling cocoa.

This would appear to be evidence that the International Development Secretary has overstepped the mark. It remains to be seen what will come of it.

You can read the full article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/oct/31/andrew-mitchell-ghana-cocoa-armajaro

Could the Government be about to destroy the International Development Act?

By Margaret Dantas Araujo

Some of the UK’s biggest charities, Oxfam, CAFOD, and Save the Children, have publically raised concerns about the growing threat of securitisation of the aid budget. The use of aid for political reasons would be in direct contravention of the International Development Act 2002.  The act,  explicitly states,

(1)The Secretary of State may provide any person or body with development assistance if he is satisfied that the provision of the assistance is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.
(2)In this Act “development assistance” means assistance provided for the purpose of—
(a)furthering sustainable development in one or more countries outside the United Kingdom, or
(b)improving the welfare of the population of one or more such countries.
(3)For the purposes of subsection (2)(a) “sustainable development” includes any development that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, prudent having regard to the likelihood of its generating lasting benefits for the population of the country or countries in relation to which it is provided.

On DFID’s website an explanation is provided of the act which states, “The 2002 Act is drafted in such a way that a policy such as “tied aid” (and the Aid and Trade Provision), in which assistance is given for the purpose of promoting UK trade or for other commercial or political reasons, would now be challengeable in the courts.”

The International Development Act was drafted following consultations with the NGO community.  Now fears are being raised by the NGO community that the government is freezing them out of crucial decisions.   In a public letter to the Guardian they stated,

“Last week the secretary of state, Andrew Mitchell, gave assurances that there would be comprehensive consultation about the future direction of development policy. These documents seem to suggest to some extent this direction has already been set. We urge him to immediately clarify the purpose of these documents and reassure the public that aid will continue to be used to reduce poverty where the needs are greatest. Reducing global poverty will contribute more to long-term stability than focusing on short-term security interests.”

DfID has a stellar international reputation and brings the UK considerable soft power.  Moving away from the International Development Act would have serious repercussions on how the UK is viewed by international community..  There is increasing pressure on Andrew Mitchell and the Tory government to divulge publically their plans for DfID and to open discussion up to the wider public and NGO community.